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How to ... Build a small business website

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Your website is your ‘shopfront’, so take some time in setting it up. It needs to reflect exactly what your business does, draw users in and offer them easy navigation, says Elizabeth Nicholls

Many small businesses operate without a website, and even those that have one often fail to apply key practices. Websites that aren’t fit for purpose feature pages not found, confusing user journeys, and designs that do more harm than good for your firm’s reputation.

It always pays to use an expert in any professional field, and web design is no exception. A few simple steps could easily improve the usability of a site and in turn improve its profitability, return on investment and, ultimately, your success as a small business.

Know your purpose

It’s no good building a website simply because you think you need one. Often business owners understand the importance of having an online presence, yet don’t take the time to consider their objectives. A website without direction can leave its visitors uninformed of the true purpose of the business, and fail to generate the interest you need. Having goals in place from the beginning will ensure you have a website that delivers what it sets out to achieve.

Make a good first impression

Your homepage is often the first experience people will have of your brand or business – it’s your shopfront. So it is imperative that it grabs visitors’ attention. Clever calls-to-action (CTAs) and interesting relevant content, coupled with slick design, should draw visitors in and push them to explore further. Ask: what has brought the visitor to this point? What information do they need? Domain names are another key aspect of that all-important first impression. Don’t try to be too clever with the domain – it just needs to communicate who you are.

Prioritise preparation

Spend some time planning the layout and copy for each page. Whether you write it yourself or use copywriters, have everything ready before you begin. That way, you’ll know how big the site should be. Web developers use flowcharts as visual guides to outline the main structure – a worthwhile exercise in the planning phase. You’ll also need a web host. When it comes to hosting, do your research. Look for a service provider that offers optimised and reliable servers with a speedy performance and daily back-ups.

Consider your design and usability

Designing your own website might seem easy, but this process can turn out to be tricky. One option is template sites, but these risk looking generic and offer little scope for change as your business grows, so an original design is probably best. Try to anticipate what your users might need. The layout should be clear, with navigational components such as ‘breadcrumb trails’, search fields, tags and icons. Ensure the website functions well from desktop to tablet to mobile. Make CTAs clear and concise, directing users towards one of your predefined goals.

Use a content management system

A content management system (CMS) allows site owners to log in and update the website as required. Small businesses must be able to stay current, and a good CMS should put you in control of adjusting and uploading fresh content. There are several open-source solutions for this function – such as WordPress, Joomla and Drupal – but bespoke systems are also available. A good web developer should offer flexible solutions and training on any systems they implement for your site.